Ukraine began evacuating patients from recently liberated Kherson amid heavy Russian shelling and blackouts caused by missile strikes that the United Nations human rights office said were plunging millions “into extreme hardship and appalling conditions”.
Kherson officials said on Friday that artillery fire killed 10 people and injured 54 over the previous 24 hours, as engineers struggled to restore power in the southern region and across Ukraine following a wave of missile strikes on critical infrastructure on Wednesday.
“Due to constant Russian shelling, we are evacuating hospital patients from Kherson,” said regional governor Yaroslav Yanushevich, announcing that children undergoing treatment would be moved to Odesa and 100 psychiatric patients would be taken to the nearby city of Mykolaiv.
Ukrainian forces retook Kherson city and areas of the region on the western bank of the Dnieper river this month, but Russian troops have intensified shelling of government-held territory and also launched more missile and drone strikes on the national grid, causing major blackouts and the shutdown of four nuclear power plants.
State power firm Ukrenergo said that by Friday morning 70 per cent of the country’s electricity needs were being met and that would increase as repairs continued and atomic power stations came back online, but millions of Ukrainians were still experiencing long outages and serious disruption to power and water supplies.
“Difficult weather conditions are slowing the pace of reconnection: due to strong wind, rain and sub-zero temperatures at night, icing and broken wires in distribution networks are adding to the damage caused by Russian missiles. Repair crews ... work around the clock,” the company said.
Moscow claims to be firing only at military targets and says any civilian sites that suffer damage are hit by debris from downed Russian missiles or by the western-supplied air defence rockets that strike them. At the same time, the Kremlin says Kyiv can bring the bombardments to an end by meeting its demands.
“Millions are being plunged into extreme hardship and appalling conditions of life by these strikes. Taken as a whole, this raises serious problems under international humanitarian law, which requires a concrete and direct military advantage for each object attacked,” said UN high commissioner for human rights Volker Türk.
Ukraine has asked allies to provide more air defence systems, but western states are still reluctant to give certain weapons to Kyiv.
Berlin offered Patriot air defence units to Warsaw this month after a stray missile – probably fired by Ukrainian air defence – killed two villagers in eastern Poland.
Polish president Andrej Duda said on Friday, however, that “from a military point of view, it would be best if they were located in Ukraine ... then they would protect both Ukraine and Poland most effectively ... But the decision rests with the German side.”
Former German chancellor Angela Merkel said in an interview published on Thursday that she planned to hold talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2021, “but I no longer had the strength to push through because ... everyone knew: she’s leaving in autumn”; she stepped down in December 2021, two months before Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine.
At a meeting with mothers of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine, Mr Putin said on Friday: “I would like you to know that I personally – and the whole leadership of the country – we share your pain.”
Some soldiers’ relatives criticised the meeting as a sham, however, saying that Mr Putin would only meet women handpicked for their loyalty and pro-Kremlin views.
“Are you brave enough to meet us face-to-face, openly, not with pre-agreed women and mothers who are in your pocket, but with real women who came here from different cities to meet you ... or are you hiding again?” Olga Tsukanova, head of the independent Council of Mothers and Wives, said in a social media message to Mr Putin.